BrettSpiel is a blog about board game design, written by game designer Brett J. Gilbert.

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The Interface IS the System

Ceci n'est pas une pipe

True story.

Terminal 5, Heathrow. A bank of lifts ferry passengers from the Arrivals lounge down to the Piccadilly line Underground station.

Following signs to the Underground, I turn a corner and four sets of closed lift doors confront me. I am the only person waiting, and since the doors and the lifts shafts are all glass, I can see that there are not, at this time, any lifts at this level. What to do?

Here’s what the designers of this particular bank of lifts want me do: absolutely nothing.

In the interests, one assumes, of simplicity they have removed the lift-call buttons. I look around, scouring the engineered glass and steel for any device that I might conceivably press; after all, that is what you do when using a lift.

Time passes and eventually a lift arrives; but not before a few other hapless travellers come to wait alongside me, all of whom do the same double-take. A small child starts to investigate the plastic mountings that allow a retractable ribbon to be pulled across the doors when a lift is out of service.

“Is this the button?” he wonders aloud to his mother.

Here’s the thing: removing the apparently unnecessary (the button) from the interface of this system (the bank of lifts) had quite the opposite effect than the one intended by the designers — that of simplifying the user’s interaction with it.

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War Game, by Victor Flk Negreiro

If we now take a look at the subjective nature of War, that is to say, at those conditions under which it is carried on, it will appear to us still more like a game. Primarily the element in which the operations of War are carried on is danger; but which of all the moral qualities is the first in danger? Courage. Now certainly courage is quite compatible with prudent calculation, but still they are things of quite a different kind, essentially different qualities of the mind; on the other hand, daring reliance on good fortune, boldness, rashness, are only expressions of courage, and all these propensities of the mind look for the fortuitous (or accidental), because it is their element.

We see, therefore, how, from the commencement, the absolute, the mathematical as it is called, nowhere finds any sure basis in the calculations in the Art of War; and that from the outset there is a play of possibilities, probabilities, good and bad luck, which spreads about with all the coarse and fine threads of its web, and makes War of all branches of human activity the most like a gambling game.

Carl von Clausewitz, On the Nature of War

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What’s Past is Prologue

In which I catch up on recent events and look forward to giving this blog a bit of a makeover.

Never make promises you can’t keep, and never write blog posts with “Part 1” in the title unless you’ve already written Part 2. That’s the lesson. Few will mourn my still-unwritten report on the UK Games Expo, but I did have a great time and meet lots of old and new friends. A few highlights:

  • The Playtest Zone organised by Rob Harris was a big success. This was where I spent most of my time, helping Rob, Chris, Katarina and Matt keep order. The two days recorded over 100 playtests of a fantastic variety of prototypes. I got some excellent feedback and reaction to my game Runaway Rabbits, including an amazingly raucous playtest which piqued the interest of Lookout Games’ Hanno Girke who just happened to be passing.

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